Provo City Council approves masks mandate, overriding mayor’s veto

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pedestrians wear masks as they walk down Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City, on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. During a special meeting Thursday night, the Provo City Council approved a mask mandate for the city.

People now really do have to mask up in Provo.

During a special meeting Thursday night, the Provo City Council overrode the mayor’s veto of a citywide mask mandate. The vote was 6-1, with Travis Hoban the lone dissenter.

The council originally unanimously passed the mandate on Tuesday. Mayor Michelle Kaufusi vetoed the mandate Wednesday, saying she preferred continuing self-regulation and educational outreach, including beefing up the city’s “Mask Up” campaign. Kaufusi did not attend Thursday’s meeting. In a letter to the City Council, read by council staff member Cliff Strachan, she said given the area’s “Don’t Tread on Me bent,” a mandate may not be the safest or wisest way to keep Provo’s citizens safe from the spread of COVID-19.

Council member Bill Fillmore said he has never seen a topic that so divided the city. People opposing the mandate outnumbered those for it in the public comments posted alongside the virtual meeting on Facebook.

“I am pro mask but anti mandate,” wrote a commenter who goes by Twilla Ray Mann. “Please keep encouraging people to wear masks and do not pass a mandate.”

The mandate requires people to wear face masks in public spaces, public buildings and public events where social distancing is not possible. Any outdoor gathering with more than 25 people requires mask wearing if people can’t socially distance. It also requires face coverings at any indoor gathering of 50 people or more, regardless of whether social distancing is possible.

The mask ordinance allows exemptions for people with health complications, diners sitting down at a restaurant and for people who are exercising. Those caught violating the mask mandate are subject to a $55 fine. Organizers of large gatherings who fail to notify attendees about the mask requirement, or don’t enforce it, face a $500 penalty.

The law goes into effect immediately.

Fillmore said he had issues with the mandate, including that it could lead to “people snitching on their neighbors.” Still, he said he ultimately felt some ordinance is better than no ordinance.

City Council chair George Handley said the council’s decision does not indicate a rift between it and Kaufusi.

“I know that the mayor and my fellow City Council members, we see things different and sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree,” Handley said, “but we are honest people trying to do the right thing.”

Handley said the council will continue to listen to people’s comments and suggestions about the mandate.